Choosing a coach – what matters more; qualifications, results, experience or the coach-athlete relationship?
As you might expect, the answer, so often is not clean cut and usually ends up being a combination of all of the above. However, I thought it would be interesting to share my thoughts on these four factors that people use to help choose a coach and how as I coach I consider them to be important.
I have studied for and completed a wide range of qualifications during the last 15 years I have spent coaching. Early in my career coaching qualifications were important, they gave me credibility to what I was able to do when my experience was not so strong. As I have continued through my career qualifications and courses have become less about the certificate and more about improving my knowledge in areas where I knew less and then giving me the information to head out and apply this to my practical coaching. Although not qualifications I also have several coaches and mentors that I call upon from time to time to discuss and share ideas on how I can improve the coaching I do and get better results. This whole CPD package is important to me, I always want to improve from where I am, one of my own personal mantras is ‘Never turn down an opportunity to learn’ and as such I always have some form of CPD project on the go whether it is a formal course or a more informal mentoring arrangement.
As a coach, results to me are important; they are the proof that what you are doing works.
However, it is always necessary to remember that results are not always seen, not always broadcast across social media and often the small everyday successes that lead to the big results just happen almost daily. A good swim session, improvements in run technique a phone call for reassurance, a step forward in confidence, all results in their own way and no less a result than crossing the finish line in a time that you wanted.
Experience comes in different shapes and sizes however, for this blog I’ve split experience into two areas, that of an athlete and as a coach.
Experience as an athlete is often thought of as useful; it can help the conversation, “I had that same experience and dealt with it by doing…”. It can create empathy and help build rapport and confidence, “If they can do it so can I”. However, coaching to me is more about being able to ask the right questions, help/guide the athlete to find the solutions and therefore direct experience is not always necessary. A good coach will know where the boundaries of their knowledge lies and will never be afraid to ask other coaches for help or direct the athlete to the appropriate place for more guidance, it’s why it is important to have mentors.
Coaching experience is more about application of the process. Sure the more times a coach has worked with an athlete who as achieved (for e.g.) an Ironman finish, the more experience they can draw upon to effectively guide the next athlete but it still requires understanding that all athletes are different and just because something has worked for one athlete it will automatically work for the next. Therefore coaching experience comes back to being able to give the right input at the right time; does it need to be a question, an instruction, a conversation or even, nothing at all. This coaching skill is built frequent exposure, reflection and planning of a range of coaching situations and should be measured not in years, but in hours.
The Coach-Athlete Relationship:
This is possibly the most important factor for me. Sometimes if you find the right coach/athlete, the other factors carry far less importance. You can work on knowledge and gain experience together but qualities such as trust, respect and honesty help develop a stronger coach-athlete relationship from the start. This then allows the athlete to open up to greater guidance from the coach and usually progress at a quicker rate. Whether the direction from the coach is 100% correct or not (and what process is ever 100% correct?), if an athlete believes in the process they are more likely to work harder and therefore through a suitable training stimulus and potentially even a bit of the placebo effect, the coach and athlete create improvement. It’s also worth remembering that strong Coach-Athlete relationships will also survive the tougher times too as well as ending amicably if either or both believe the process has come to an end.
So when choosing a coach, while all of these factors carry some importance, the final answer is really a combination of them all and the proportions of each is for the athlete to decide.